Henry VIII had been married for nine years when he began his affair with 18 year old Elizabeth Blount. She was a maid of honour in Queen Katherine of Aragon’s household. Bessie had the reputation of being very beautiful much more so than Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn. After giving birth to the King’s son she was married to Gilbert Tailboy’s, 1st Baron of Kyme and the king provided the newlyweds with a manor in Warwickshire.
Henry openly acknowledged his son by giving him name Fitzroy. Which is a surname sometimes given to illegitimate children of English kings.
Little Henry Fitzroy looked like his father and was the only child born out of wedlock that Henry VIII ever acknowledged. Although others have claimed that they were his children and still more were rumoured to be there is no real proof. As far as is known all of the kings mistresses (apart from the ones he later wed) were married at the time of their romances with Henry VIII except for Bessie Blount. Meaning that their offspring could belong to their husbands.
One of Henry Fitzroy’s Godparents was Cardinal Wolsey, the others are unknown.
In 1525 the six year old Lord Henry Fitzroy was given a double peerage of Duke of Richmond and Somerset making him the most pre-eminent noble in the land. The title Richmond had once belonged to the king’s grandmother Margaret Beaufort and to his father Henry VII.
The title of Somerset caused great speculation and gossip at court because it was well known that in 1397 another royal bastard who received this title was later legitimised and put in the line of succession. (His name was John Beaufort and his father was John of Gaunt.) It was thought by many that the Kings next step would be legitimising Henry Fitzroy which would make him a prince and heir apparent. Fitzroy was also invested as the Earl of Nottingham, given land, estates and made a Knight of the Garter.
It is not known how the kings first wife, Katherine of Aragon, felt about the birth and the elevation of her husbands child born to another woman. Katherine was nearing 40 and considered long past the age of childbearing .I feel that any woman in those circumstances might feel angry, sad and humiliated but Katherine a true princess of Spain never showed her feelings.
It might have been expected that the king would make sure his son was adequately provided for however Beverley. A Murphy explains in her book ‘Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s lost son’, (2001:Pg.45) that, the ceremony making Fitzroy a Duke did nothing to spare Katherine’s feelings… And that parading him around the court, almost as if he was a legitimate prince, would have been a trial to the most patient of wives... Queen Katherine must have felt anxiety about the possible implications for her beloved daughter Princess Mary, and her own pride and honour were at stake too.
Queen Katherine had endured many still births, miscarriages and infant deaths during her marriage to Henry VIII but at last, on 18 Feb 1516 the Princess Mary had been born.The Princess would later become England’s first sovereign queen known to many as Bloody Mary. Her husband King Philip II of Spain was only a King consort and had no rights to Mary’s English throne. Just as Mary was queen consort of Spain but had no rights to the Spanish throne.
In the 1500’s it was the duty of the King to lead their men into battle and a queens duty was to give birth. England had never had a successful sovereign queen and it was thought that any female governing the country would lead to a civil war. So at the time of Mary’s birth it was thought impossible for a woman to rule alone.
Fitzroy was made lord Lieutenant of Ireland and presided over the council of the North. This could be considered to be a miniature Royal court and perhaps an apprenticeship for later life. According to Murphy (pg: 105/2001) Henry VIII had considered a rather more unorthodox means of securing the succession, one which would have ensured that his bastard son could ascend the throne of England, with a royal princess as his bride… He and Cardinal Wolsey had thought of marrying Fitzroy to his half sister Princess Mary. This did not happen but that it crossed his mind clearly shows how deeply concerned Henry VIII was about having a woman on the throne, the succession and his lack of a legitimate male heir.
Aged 11, Fitzroy was often at court. Like his father he enjoyed hunting and sport but took little pleasure in formal education. Fitzroy’s closest companion was the Earl of Surrey Henry Howard. He was two years older and the son of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Surrey was also the cousin of the kings new mistress Anne Boleyn and it was to be Anne who later arranged Fitzroy’s betrothal to her other cousin Mary Howard. (Surrey’s sister.)
In 1532 the King took the entire court to Calais. The purpose of the trip was for his mistress Anne Boleyn to be formally acknowledged as a queen consort in waiting by the French king and his court. Henry VIII had now separated from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon and hoped to marry Anne shortly.
When the court returned to England it was decided that Surrey and Fitzroy would attend the French court and accompany the Royal family there. They enjoyed the company of the three French princes before having a meeting with the pope (Clement VII) to act on his fathers behalf in attempting to get an annulment. The pope declared Katherine of Aragon was the kings legal wife and that if he did not return to her he would be expelled from the church. The pope declared that any child that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had would be illegitimate. Unfortunately for the pope, by this time Anne was now pregnant, married and had been crowned Queen. The King recalled Fitzroy back to England.
The baby born on 7th September 1533 was Princess Elizabeth. Fitzroy became the most important person at court after the king and Queen. He was fourteen, tall, handsome and the kings only son. Princess Mary was declared illegitimate and Princess Elizabeth was a baby and a girl. It is perhaps understandable that all eyes turned to the active and healthy teenager.
Mary Howard married Henry Fitzroy on 26th November 1533 at Hampton Court Palace. The newly-weds did not live together or share a bed as Henry was considered too young. Mary returned to attend on Queen Anne at court and Fitzroy resumed affairs of state for his father.
Mary Howard was a favourite of the new queen and Anne may have decided to join her family with the kings in the hope that the match would cancel out any political danger that Fitzroy’s position could cause her own off spring in the future. As her own family could surely be trusted to be loyal to her and to the crown. If this was the queens plan she may have made a serious mistake. Her uncle Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk was a notorious schemer. Nothing would have pleased him more than adding more royal blood to his own and stepping closer to the succession.
If Anne did not produce a son soon and the newly-weds did, Norfolk and his daughter had enough Royal blood in their veins, which combined with Fitzroys would make his baby grandchild an excellent prospect for the throne. The queen and her uncle had quarrelled and the duke no longer promoted his niece.
It was Norfolk who the queen blamed for her downfall in 1536 by announcing that the king had fallen from his horse which triggered her miscarriage. It was Norfolk who later arrested Anne for treason, escorted her to the Tower by barge, headed her trial and shed a tear as he pronounced her guilty and announced her execution. Norfolk was not a man to have as an enemy and I suspect his tears were not for Anne but for his loss of his own status as the queen’s uncle. (I love a villain don’t you?)
Queen Anne was executed within the walls of the Tower of London on 19th May 1536. Fitzroy did not attend Anne’s trial but he did attend her execution. The king married his third wife Jane Seymour shortly after Anne’s death. Princess Elizabeth joined her half sister the Lady Mary and Henry Fitzroy as illegitimate. As the only male this automatically made Fitzroy the most important of Henry’s three illegitimate children.
The king made a new succession act in 1536 and for the first time it… did not confine the succession to the king’s legitimate line. Instead Henry was given the authority to designate whomever he liked to follow him as king. Again the court was rife with gossip that Fitzroy would be named heir apparent.
It was not to be. Fitzroy was taken to St. James Palace because he had fallen too ill to lodge with the king at court. Not only was this a wise precaution against others becoming ill but it would stop any rumours from spreading as St.James Palace was very secluded.
St.Michaels the Archangel church in Framlingham Suffolk: Top left: Tomb of Henry Fitzroy, next tomb to the right: his friend Henry Earl of Surrey is buried (It’s very rare for an executed traitor to have a tomb at all) and the bottom tomb is where the infamous 3rd Duke of Norfolk Thomas Howard was laid to rest with his long suffering wife. For visitors planning a trip to Framlingham castle and St. Michaels see my other post which includes links and prices for admission. It is well worth the trip especially when an event has been planned.
Fitzroy died 23rd July 1536 which was a great shock to his father as he was a fit and healthy 17 year old man. The king fell into an all consuming grief and it appeared that the now irrational and sad king wanted to keep the news to himself and bury his natural son quickly and quietly. This was done by Thomas Howard the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey. Fitzroy’s father in law and his friend took the simple wooden coffin in a cart covered with straw to Thetford priory in Norfolk. The body was laid to rest with very little ceremony in the Howard family vault. None of the Fitzroy’s servants were permitted to wear his livery. Norfolk arranged for the tomb to be built and paid for it and later Catholic Masses were said for his soul by Fitzroy’s fellow knights of the order of the garter.
The secret burial of was later deeply regretted by the king who blamed Norfolk for not giving his beloved son a grand funeral.
Thetford priory in Norfolk was not to be where the body remained because in 1539 it was dissolved as part of the reformation. Henry Fitzroy’s tomb was moved to Saint Michaels Church Framlingham in Suffolk which is close to the Howard owned castle of Framlingham.
In his life time Henry Fitzroy was the Kings only living son. His half brother, Prince Edward, would not be born until after Fitzroy’s death and no other sons of Henry VIII survived their infancy. Fitzroy died ten years before his father and his coat of arms can still be seen at saint George’s chapel at Windsor castle.
If Henry Fitzroy had lived one year more he would have met his legitimate half brother Prince Edward and he probably would have been launched into total obscurity at least until his brothers death. Would Lady Jane Grey have been King Edward’s first choice to succeed him if he had a brother? Let me know what you think below: